C.W. Gusewell


A curmudgeon in the grip of gripes

During much of his early career, Andy Rooney was a serious journalist.

As a war correspondent in the ‘40s, he rode with the Air Force on bombing missions over Germany, covered the liberation of Paris, described the horror of the Nazi concentration camps.

For his service in bringing the reality of the conflict to the American audience, he was awarded a Bronze Star and the Air Medal.

After the war, he began what would be a more than 60-year association with CBS, first as a writer and later with appearances on camera in important TV productions.

But he is best remembered for his regular contribution to the network’s program “60 Minutes.”

For 33 years, until his death last November at age 92, Rooney was a fixture whose monologue occupied the final minutes of the weekly show.

Always grumpy, sometimes controversial, unfailingly engaging, he used his brief time slot to skewer pretense, complain about his personal annoyances and strip bare what he saw as the prevailing nonsense of the modern world – all done with sly humor, but humor with a cutting edge.

That was his persona. It earned him the title of CBS’s “resident curmudgeon.”

It occurred to me recently that curmudgeonship – if there is such a word – may be a predictable affliction of aging journalists, for I find myself exhibiting some of the symptoms.

For example, at the grocery store, while waiting my turn at the register, I cannot help noticing what’s offered for sale as reading material on the rack beside the checkout line.

I do not object to the bikini-clad ladies on the magazine covers.

What’s baffling are the advertised contents. Why would I or anyone else be interested in the liaisons, extravagant nuptials, subsequent infidelities or other betrayals, and resulting separations of the beautiful, the self-indulgent and the socially useless?

My other gripes are even more petty.

You’ve surely noticed how monthly bills from utilities, credit card companies and other merchants come with instructions: “Separate at the perforation and return bottom half with payment in the envelope enclosed.”

But often you have to go find scissors to cut off the lower part because billion-dollar organizations can’t be bothered to do a workable perforation.

The other day our new telephone book was left on our front doorstep. It’s a good deal smaller than the book it is replacing.

The entries in the last one were so small I had to use a magnifying glass to look up a number. To read this one I’ll probably need laser surgery, or maybe a corneal transplant.

Finally, modern newspaper printing, nearly 600 years removed from Johannes Gutenberg’s first efforts, is a wonder of precision – so exact, in fact, that there’s no detectable difference in the sizes of the pages.

Sometimes to get from a story’s beginning on Page 1 to its “jump,” or continuation, you have to wet your thumb and forefinger to turn to that inner page.

And printing, though it’s a miraculous and socially important process, is not a particularly clean one. When you read the morning paper, black smudges tend to come off on the breakfast table, on your clothes and, of course, on your hands.

I hate having to lick my fingers to read this or any other newspaper. I’ve got a passionate appetite for news. But not for ink. At the very least they could flavor it.

My preference would be strawberry.

You may find my complaining tiresome. But at least, as it was with Andy Rooney, I’m only once a week.